Krolikarnia Park, Warsaw, Poland. Photo: © Marek and Ewa Wojciechowscy / Trips over Poland, via Wikimedia Commons.
By Debbie and Ed Mucha
Our “Journey” was in the planning stages since mid-2014 as I began writing various Archive Offices in Poland to see if family records might be available. All this occurred after I had exhausted contacting various Parish offices in the USA. I found some info but not earlier files as I wanted. As I’d received positive replies from District Archiwums (archives) in Lomza, Dzikiewicz and Sanok, Poland, I started laying out our actual routes and stays. I planned for my wife Debra & I to maximize our time in Europe by seeing places of interest along the road to Poland and back.
Since we were going “on the cheap”, via US Military Space-A travel, I allowed extra time for some flight delays (always inevitable). This is how it evolved: We departed our home in South Central VA on the morning of 13 Sept, planning to fly from Dover AFB, DE after an overnight stay to relax from a six hour road trip. It turned out that the Monday flight from Dover to Ramstein AFB, Germany had been canceled, with nothing scheduled for next two days. I then checked the flight schedules from McGuire AFB, NJ and found that there were several flights going out late Monday as well as Tuesday. Monday at noon we headed up the Jersey Pike for McGuire, a 2-hour ride we had already done several times previously for same reason – cancellations.
On arrival at McGuire I met a Passenger Terminal Agent/friend who advised me that there was a flight departing for Spangdahlem at 0100 on 15 Sept. We signed up for this flight, got all our paperwork, drove over to the Commissary to stock up on some snacks for the flight and then had dinner on base. We had booked a room so we used it to change clothes and kept it “just in case”. About 2200 we were called for the flight (C-17 and 35 seats), I left Deb at the Terminal with our baggage and took the car to Long-Term parking, made sure all lights were out and it was locked.
It turns out (as usual) there was a slight delay in boarding. We finally boarded a cargo-loaded aircraft. The seats are “Paratroop” style, where you sit facing center aisle, cargo is the military’s priority, not comfort. However, I learned long ago to carry a roll-up foam camp mattress which passengers can use to spread out on the deck after takeoff and when the lights are turned down low. The military also furnishes, for $5.00 per person, box lunches which are sufficient to take the edge off of hunger. Departing around 0300 it was a quiet, 7.5-hour flight.
We arrived at the German Air Base at Spangdahlem, North of Trier, Germany at approximately 1730, Tuesday, 15 Sept. I had booked ahead a room at the Eifel Arms Inn which we went to by taxi from the Terminal. It turns out that the main building was full so we were billeted another short taxi-ride away. We thought that sleeping would be “touch & go” as A-10s were doing just that. Luckily, ops concluded at 2000. Since we had no transportation we called to have the on-base pizzeria deliver pizza, salads and a couple of bottles of soda. After taking soothing, hot showers we went to sleep so we would be up early to arrange transportation to Ramstein, where we planned to relax for a few days, pick up our rental car, and then head across Germany to Poland.
We were able to catch the daily Shuttle Bus to Ramstein AB and departed Spangdahlem at 0930, arriving at Ramstein at 1130. We took a taxi from the Base to a hotel we’ve stayed at previously. It is always a delight for us to return and see old friends and chat about family and life. While there we were also able to meet with some American friends living in Ramstein and enjoy evenings out with them. Plus, we have an Italian restauranteur friend, married to a Polish woman, who own a local establishment (Lanciano) where we love to go and enjoy excellent Italian foods with a German-Polish flair. And our rental car agent is also a friend whose father we had previously dealt with until he retired. Familiarity does not breed contempt!
Deb Mucha in Restaurant Lanciano, Ramstein, Germany.
On Thursday, 17 Sept. we drove to St. Avold, France, to visit the American Military Cemetery, where my father has remained since November 1944 and his service in the 26th Yankee Division. This is a truly beautiful, peaceful, well-cared for piece of America in France, and is an almost annual stop for us. Afterward we GPS’d our way to a LeClerc Super Marché (a super market which we love for the variety of everything imaginable). We stocked up on seltzer water, baguettes, chips, smoked sausage,
St. Avold, France ABMC Lorraine Cemetery
cheese, a couple of chocolate bars, fresh fruit and some select bottles of wine which I knew would be enjoyable at home. We then drove up to Trier to dine in a favorite spot we have enjoyed several times right on the main Platz of Trier, zum Domstein, (they always have a “wilde” dish of Boar or Venison available). Their wine list is local and exceptional. From there we took a 1 hour drive back to Ramstein for packing for departure on Friday, 18 Sept.
I might add that when traveling we generally stay in 3-starred hotels or recommended gasthofs or similar inns. We also look for free parking. Deb & I have traveled Europe together almost every year since 1991 and on several occasions made more than one trip per year. We like gasthofs as the restaurants are always very good. At most hotels we eat out unless the dining looks exceptional. We’ve also stayed in Posadas (Spanish Inns), Paradores (Spanish luxury hotels), Auberges (French Inns) and old castles
Our travel plans stipulated that upon departing Ramstein, for which I had allowed sufficient Space-A flight time from the US to Germany, we would drive for an overnight at Landgasthof Gut Haidt, just north of the city of Hof in northeast Bavaria. This was our longest drive, 450km and 5 hours in duration. The car we rented was a Skoda station wagon, loaded with automatic everything (except the shift), roomy, and very easy to drive. The Gut Haidt was once a part of a complex of riding stables of which the area had several, but now stands alone. The room was comfortable and the restaurant food was excellent, though service was a bit slow.
Part of Gut Haidt Complex
Our next leg was to stay two nights in Meissen, Saxony with a stop at Colditz to visit the infamous WWII PoW Lager which was expressly for prisoners of all nationalities deemed incorrigibles, or prisoners who had habitually attempted to escape. The town of Colditz is situated at the base of the castle. We stopped at a baekerie named Deitricht in the main square for lunch before proceeding up to the castle complex itself. On arrival, while purchasing tickets it was noted that the day was my birthday and therefore I was entitled to free entry. That made my day! The self-guided tour was extremely interesting, winding over several floors and to both inner and outer courtyards. It was amazing that escapes from here could be conceived and even achieve success with approx. 20+ “home runs” accomplished. From Colditz we followed our GPS into Meissen and across the Elbe to our Hotel, the Knorre, on the east bank of that famous river.
Colditz Platz above, castle below, Dietrich baekerie/cafe on left
The hotel setting was perfect. Our room on the 2nd floor provided a view of the river and the Albrechtsburg Castle which towers over Meissen. The room was a little small, but had a balcony and a convenient third bed which was great for unpacking suitcases. Dinners in the hotel restaurant were excellent, as were the buffet breakfasts. The staff spoke English and were both attentive and helpful. We took after-dinner strolls along the path on the river’s edge. We visited the Castle and its complex, and drove thru Meissen to tour the “new” Meissen Porcelain factory, the old having been started in the castle back in 1710. We departed Meissen Monday morning, the 21st for a Zajazd lodging (a rustic, log cabin building) in Sokolniki, Poland off the E67 with a stop at Boleslawiec to purchase some small porcelain-ware for use at home. From Meissen, it was 170km and a two hour drive, and from Boleslawiec to the Zajazd was another 236 km, or an additional 2 hours and 30 mins.
Boleslawiec is a porcelain town. The road leading off the E67 into town
Porcelain work of Meissen, valued at 35,000 Euros
had factories and outlet stores all along where we found one that appealed to us and we stopped. They had indoor and outdoor sections, the outdoor for seconds and for larger, garden-sized pottery. We shopped the indoor selection until finding separate pieces of cups, saucers and a porcelain-handled butter knife, cost for which was ZL 135, approx. $35US. Back onto the autobanski to the Chata where we were pleasantly surprised. The motel was part of a family-owned complex featuring a Delikatesy (similar to early US grocery stores.) The motel was situated above with a desk on the ground floor. Next door was a restaurant featuring wood-grilled meats. There was also a small gift shop in the middle of the parking lot featuring hand-made Polish items, carved, sewn, and painted. The Chata was in the middle of flat, farm country with the hay already cut and rolled for winter, and provided a peaceful, quiet setting. The main parking lot was for autos and across the street was a lot for semis that frequented the stop.(www.chata-walichnowska.pl)
Colditz Platz above, castle below, Dietrich baekerie/cafe on left
We enjoyed smoked sausage, roast pork and potatoes for dinner, with pivo (beer). After dinner we took a short walk on a side road along the fields, then stopped into the Delikatesy for ice cream treats for dessert. We returned to our room and showered with plenty of hot water. Our car was parked just below our window in the well-lit back lot and we were able to leave our room windows open (no mosquitos), sleeping peacefully.
In the morning, a buffet breakfast waited in the small breakfast area just outside our room, after which we got back onto the E67 for a 243km drive to the 4-star Hotel Mercury Grand Warsaw. Along the way we stopped for fuel (diesel – our car got over 80 km per gal mileage) and we enjoyed McDonald’s cappuccinos at another stop. We arrived in Warsaw in heavy traffic but our route led directly into the Al. Jerozolimski highway, where our hotel was a right turn off of same. We were directed to the underground parking lot (here I’d decided on secure, paid parking as we planned to mostly walk and bus around Warsaw). Our room was on the 7th floor with one wall all glass to see out over the western side of the city.
Coming into Warsaw from the west, via Al. Jerozelimski
Our plans in Warsaw were to visit the close by Muzeum Narodowe (fine arts), Nowy Swiat and its extension up to the Royal Castle, Ogrod Saski park, Old Town, the Warsaw 1944 Uprising Muzeum, the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army and Museum, the Chopin Muzeum, and whatever else caught our eye during our visit, plus dine at “The Inn of the Red Hog”. But we were also to drive on Thursday the 24th up to Lomza and the District Archives Office, with whom I’d been in contact to obtain a copy of my grandfather’s Baptism record. Also, on Saturday we were to visit a good friend who had been a co-worker in the US on a work-visa in the ‘90s. He lived with his wife and son across the Vistula in Otwock from where he ran a business servicing computerized production machinery for the Polish sugar industry. There were more places of interest for us to see than we imagined.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Warsaw, Poland
Ogrod Salki, Warsaw’s Central Park
One of numerous displays, PW is the Uprising symbol meaning “Poland Fights”
Warsaw’s Royal Castle, completely rebuilt as the Nazis totally leveled it
Nowy Swiat street is home to hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, stores and shoppes from the DeGaulle Rondo up to the Plac Zamkowy beyond which was Old Town and its completely restored square which were all completely destroyed on Hitler’s orders after the 1944 Uprising. We spent all our Warsaw days up, down, and off to the sides of the numerous streets visiting all we’d planned, including a stop into Café Blikle, supposedly the oldest, continually operating café in Warsaw. Their Paczke (donuts) beat anything we’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Our favorite restaurant was Brouwarmia on Nowy Swiat which featured kielbasa, bratwurst, sausages, pork schnitzles, Polish vegetables and Polish pivo. We ate two dinners at Brouwarmia, one dinner in an Italian restaurant, another in a 2nd bierpub plus “The Inn of the Red Hog”, a throwback to the communist era where numerous party apparatchiks ate, including Castro, Tito, numerous Polish PMs and more. This place was fairly busy, the food was great, hearty, plentiful, the wines and pivos excellent and the prices very reasonable. We highly recommended this excellent and interesting restaurant to anyone visiting Warsaw.